The title comes from surrealist-hipster-comedian Lord Buckley, who was master of ceremonies for this half hour of startling juxtapositions. Thanks to magician Franz Hoffmann, we have the soundtrack and some non-synchronized film footage from the November 16, 1948 Eddie Condon Floor Show.*
I offer these videos not only as tribute to the individual artists, but as a kind of swinging rebuttal. In the last thirty or so years, conventional jazz history has relegated Eddie Condon to, at best, a condescending footnote. “Yes, he organized early interracial recording sessions, but after that his music was no longer important.” This is what the late Richard Ellmann called the “friend-of” syndrome: that Eddie is important only in his relations to Major Jazz Players Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. I beg to differ. Evaluating creation by skin color has never been a good idea, and in this case it ignores a great deal of evidence.
Eddie’s Floor Show reminds us, once again, how expansive Condon’s musical vision was. Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Dick Cary, Jack Lesberg, and George Wettling are strongly present — but so is Johnny Mercer. And Sidney Bechet, Henry “Red” Allen, Mary Lou Williams, Teddy Hale, Thelma Carpenter, Pearl Primus, and Lord Buckley having a fine time satirizing both himself and the proceedings (with a quite accurate Louis Armstrong impersonation). This is not simply a formulaic group of musicians gathered to read through MUSKRAT RAMBLE once again. I would have Mr. Condon celebrated as a man who embodied jazz — not simply a pale shadow of its former glories. Some faithful JAZZ LIVES readers may have noted my attempt to revise history so that everyone appreciates Eddie Condon: I won’t give up until everyone does.
But music speaks louder than . . . .
So here, thanks to Franz, is the music from November 16, 1948. More important than Milton Berle, boxing, or wrestling. In his generous desire to give us a true multi-media experience, Franz has also offered still photos and video clips of the relevant artists: the matchup isn’t always perfect, but his efforts are a gift to us all.
I AIN’T GONNA GIVE NOBODY NONE OF MY JELLY ROLL into HAPPY BIRTHDAY — vocal by Johnny Mercer, who was quite a singer:
CARAVAN — a feature for Mary Lou Williams:
JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS — featuring Sidney Bechet and the rhythm section:
CONGO DRUMS — perhaps hard to visualize Pearl Primus capering around the small screen, but she loved to dance to jazz accompaniment (there’s a picture of her at Gjon Mili’s 1943 jam session, where she is dancing, barefoot, to a little band playing HONEYSUCKLE ROSE . . . the little band is made up of Teddy Wilson, Bobby Hackett, Lou McGarity, Edmond Hall, Johnny Williams, and Sidney Catlett — a pretty fine pickup group!):
For me, what follows is the prize of the session — a new song for Henry “Red” Allen to sing, the rather tough-minded love ballad (after a fashion), I TOLD YA I LOVE YOU, NOW GET OUT (a song composed by the Soft Winds — John Frigo, Lou Carter, and Herb Ellis):
I don’t know whether having dancers on the show was Eddie’s idea or not, but someone understood that television was a visual medium — and while a band could play for an hour on radio, viewers needed other kinds of stimulation to keep their attention: hence a BLUES played as background for the brilliant tap-dancing of Teddy Hale:
A tribute to Louis by Wild Bill Davison, I’M CONFESSIN’:
And a neat combination of Johnny Mercer (whose lyrics we hear) and Thelma Carpenter on COME RAIN OR COME SHINE:
What a bonanza — thanks to Eddie, his friends, and to Franz Hoffmann.
*I believe the yearning for the kinescopes of this television show will forever be unsatisfied: the details are not appropriate here, but the primary kinescopes no longer exist. One may, of course, imagine a jazz fan with a sound film camera aiming it at the television screen — but the combination of happy events that would have made this possible in 1948 is frankly unlikely. Better to treasure what we have!